A detailed look at Nike Basketball’s Area 72 space from All-Star weekend in Houston

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Nike Basketball pulled out all the stops during All-Star weekend to showcase its extraterrestrial lineup of special edition kicks that would be worn by Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant during the NBA’s midseason exhibition.

Setting up shop inside the Houston Galleria mall, Nike created an Area 72 retail space that allowed fans to get the full space-age experience. It was impossible to miss the large black dome in the center of the mall’s lower level that housed the exhibit — it was eye-catching from above, and even at a distance.

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Once inside, fans enter a hallway with silver “space boot” versions of the shoes lining the walls, which leads them into the main area of the exhibit.

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After passing through the hallway, you find yourself in the center of things, where the real All-Star edition shoes are all on display. This was one of the cooler parts of the experience, where everyone entering received an access card with a unique code on it.

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Visitors walked around the exhibit where the shoes were encased in glass, and got to enter their code on a keypad. If the display read “access denied,” they didn’t win anything. But if it lit up with “access granted,” a key was revealed and they could unlock their size of the pair of shoes that they had just won.

One young man really wanted to win badly, and would rest his head against the display, eyes closed as he was deep in meditation (or perhaps prayer) before entering his code on the keypad. Unfortunately, he wasn’t among the chosen ones, and let out an exasperated yelp after being denied at all three tries.

There was plenty more detail to see, including video displays featuring Bryant, James, and Durant. Near the display’s exit was a customization booth, where merchandise that included socks, shirts, and track jackets could be special-ordered with various Area 72 design options. This was packed consistently throughout the weekend, and orders took between 1-2 hours to complete.

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Nike held player appearances at the space throughout the weekend, which included the three biggest names in the game whose shoes were prominently featured. The crowds were at times alost unmanageable, which speaks to the success of the space, as well as to the popularity of the NBA and the merchandise supporting the league fans love to watch.

During my visit, I caught up with Erick Goto, a member of the design team that created all of this. One of the more interesting things we discussed was how the design process for the All-Star edition shoes, as well as the theme that would carry the company’s vision throughout the weekend, was over a year in the making.

As we talked about all that went into the design process, Goto was like an actor who works on a film a year or more before it’s released, and then has to discuss it again after it’s become a distant part of his professional past.

“Up until a couple weeks, ago, I really didn’t know how excited to be about this whole thing,” he said. “But seeing all the images of how the space would look, I got so excited because you know, you’re working on it a year ago, and you’re done with that stuff. It was so long ago.”

Goto said the design team was surprised with how popular the space-age themes have become, beginning with the Galaxy editions that carried the 2012 All-Star weekend in Orlando through to the extraterrestrial theme that was omnipresent in Houston.

“We were surprised,” he said. “We definitely didn’t think that it would cause as much chaos as it did last year, but it’s great. And that’s kind of what pushes the creativity for the team. We’re always trying to make sure we deliver something special.”

The detail and design that was put into each player’s special edition shoe is truly something to behold, as was the retail space that came together for the All-Star weekend celebration. Seeing the space in its finished form made it well worth all the hard work the design team put into it, beginning more than 12 months before the final vision was realized.

“This totally made it worth it,” Goto said. “It totally brought a tear to my eye. People were down here a couple of days [before the opening] just sending me pictures of how the space was building out, and I was like, no way! I got totally excited. We worked on the product so long ago thinking, ‘it would be cool if they did this, or it would be cool if they did that.’ But they actually made everything happen.”


Nike Basketball Area 72 space at All-Star weekend in Houston

James Harden is playing with a bruised right knee

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James Harden, Chris Paul, and the Houston Rockets are on a 13-game winning streak. They have a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. But it’s not all rosy in Space City.

Harden suffered a bruised right knee against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, and almost had to sit out the Rockets’ win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.

Speaking to reporters after the win over the Bucks, Harden said that he was in some pain but a doctor told him he would be able to play and that he would not make the condition worse.

Via ESPN:

“I wasn’t feeling well at all, but the doc came in and just told me that there’s going to be pain for a bit, but you can play through it,” Harden said. “It can’t get worse, but it’s going to be pretty painful until obviously you give it some time. Once he said that, I was like, ‘Let’s go.'”

“I wasn’t moving like I usually move, but we won,” said Harden.

If Harden wasn’t feeling well, it sure didn’t show. He had 31 points, although on 8-of-21 shooting against Milwaukee. Chris Paul chipped in with 25 points, six assists, and five rebounds.

It doesn’t sound like Harden will be missing a game any time soon, which is par for the course for him. He’s played in a minimum of 89 percent of his team’s regular season games since entering the league in 2009.

Meanwhile, the Rockets are blasting their way into 2018. They play the Warriors next on January 4.

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: ‘It would mean a lot’

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).